Clock-watching is highly contagious and a worryingly high percentage of people at work are just phoning it in – so how can you get your team to re-engage, or find your own professional purpose?
Kevin Murray is a leadership coach, former CEO and author of People With Purpose. He has compiled research that shows on average around 60-66% of workforces worldwide are actually engaged at work. ‘That tells you 30-40% are not engaged, which is staggeringly high,’ he says. ‘There are estimates from the Chartered Management Institute that say the annual cost in GBP in the UK of that disengagement is something like £20 billion. I’ve compiled research from all over the world, which shows there’s really clear evidence that engagement drives performance on almost every metric.’ So what’s the solution?
1. Live Your Values Every Day
If you want to re-engage your team you have to lead by example, says Murray. ‘You as a leader must be authentic, you must be honest and you must have integrity – a strong set of values that people can see and relate to.’ It’s the everyday behaviours that define your company culture and that people really notice and respond to. ‘I define culture as: “The Way We Do Things Around Here.” Values are about your beliefs and beliefs drive behaviours, which are your cultures. So if your values are just empty words on a poster then you’ve got a problem,’ says Murray.
2. The Bottom Line Will Never Inspire Your Team
If you’re seeing high levels of disengagement the chances are high that your business is placing too much emphasis on profit at any cost. ‘It’s not just about high performance: delivering profits, revenue growth, and efficiency; it’s also about behaving in a responsible, ethical way. I have interviewed 120 CEOs and every one I speak to these days understands this as an essential part of doing business.’ Murray’s own research, for his two books, has seen how companies that have a purpose beyond profit – that are about making a difference to people – are the ones who can get consumers on-side and get employees to give their discretionary effort. They also have better reputations, and are more financially resilient.
‘Without the right culture you will never deliver your strategy’
3. Remember To Share Your Vision
Rather than focusing on short-term challenges and fire-fighting, you need to be able to take a step back and articulate your vision. ’You need to have the ability to think ahead, have a vision, see the future, understand what ‘good’ looks like and be able to describe it. You need to talk to people about purpose and values – “the things we believe are important around here” are powerful in driving the right culture, and culture is a crucial part of high performance. Without the right culture you will never deliver your strategy.’
4. Give Your People Purpose To Benefit Business
‘All my research has shown the role of a manager is really to give people a sense of purpose,’ says Murray. ‘That comes from three things: a focus beyond profit that is honourable and that people feel is worthwhile; it comes from a strong culture in which you feel a sense of belonging and you feel worthwhile; and it comes from stretching goals, which make you want to perform well and deliver those goals.’ The knock-on effect of feeling purposeful benefits both employees and the business. ‘When leaders give people that sense of purpose it has a dramatic effect, among many other things on wellbeing and health – staff stay, there’s little churn and sickness levels are low so productivity is higher.’
5. Don’t Be An Accidental Manager
We’ve all seen it – colleagues who do well in their role get given more and more responsibility until they’re running a team, almost by accident. But being good at your job doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be good at leading others to do theirs. ‘Accidental managers don’t really know how to lead people properly and how to motivate them. I was a journalist when I started my career: I was chief crime reporter on the Star Newspaper in Johannesburg – which is the crime capital of the universe – and then became News Editor but I didn't know how to manage people. It wasn’t until much later in my career when I got management training, leadership training and training in how to be a director that I improved,’ says Murray.
‘Good leaders are bad news junkies because through bad news you can fix problems quickly’
6. Become A Bad News Junkie
‘One of the top crimes of bad leaders is to disallow bad news,’ says Murray. If you do this you effectively short-circuit your business’s nervous system because people won’t bring you bad news anymore – and if you can’t see when things are going wrong, you can’t react. ‘In a way good leaders are bad news junkies because it’s through bad news that you can fix problems quickly and improve performance.’
7. Prioritise Becoming A Conversationalist
It’s hard to feel engaged at work if your boss is as likely to ask your opinion as throw a naked pool party. ‘If employees don’t feel respected then you are never going to get engagement from them. But no one is going to feel respected if they are not listened to, if they aren’t valued, if they aren’t given feedback or aren’t involved in conversations,’ says Murray, whose own research into 4,000 managers and employees found that the single most important thing that employees want from their managers is to be respected – to be valued and to be heard. ‘Good leaders become very empathetic to their audience, which means that they have to be extraordinarily good listeners. As a leader your job is to listen to people, take into account their views and then to ultimately make a decision. You have to be a really skilful conversationalist who encourages people to speak out and care about things.’
8. Scale Up Through Your Own Values
It’s common for startups to be run by one dedicated figure with a strong vision, but that can hold you back when you need to grow fast and don’t always trust your team to do things as you would, leaving them disengaged. ‘The most powerful way you can scale up is to ensure that people behave the way that you would when you are not in the room,’ says Murray. ‘Ensure that they understand your purpose – if they understand what your purpose is and they understand the values that drive the business, and you, then they can make the right decisions when you are not in the room.’
9. Ditch The Company Rule Book
You might be tempted to think that a set of rules for the business would empower employees to do their job, but unless they are needed by law, this not always the case, says Murray. ‘I have a view that big rule books dumb companies down, and that simple purpose and value statements empower people and scale them up – no rule book can cover every eventuality. It comes down to culture and purpose, and sense of vision: what’s the right thing to do?’ One way to create this instinct is through alignment: ‘It’s no good having a strategy at the top if people at the frontline aren’t behaving in ways that help you to deliver the strategy. Everyone including the frontline has to understand the strategy and their role in delivering it.’
‘You have to put your ego aside – once you do that you can become a better leader’
10. Leave Your Ego At The Door
You might think that to fire up your team, you need to transform into a super-charismatic hero and blind everyone with your brilliance. Not so, says Murray: ‘It’s not about managers trying to be inspiring, it’s about them trying to leave people feeling inspired – those are two different things. In the first you try to think about being a charismatic leader, but in the second you are very focused on what’s best for the person in front of you and how to get the best out of them. You have to put your ego aside – once you do that you can become a better leader.’ Sometimes an underperforming employee just isn’t suited to their role, but often it’s a case of leadership. ‘Great leaders are able to see the strengths in people and build on them, rather than sit there criticising their weaknesses.’
11. Realise That Improvement Is Continuous
Once you’ve made some progress in re-engaging your team, don’t rest on your laurels – keep providing fresh challenges. ‘The best leaders adopt a powerful behaviour, which is about continuous improvement and encourage that from everybody around them: “Great job, but what do we need to do better that will raise our levels of performance; what did we do badly?” Real innovation comes from a culture of continuous improvement – there has to be, and always is, a better way.’
WHAT NEXT? Take Kevin Murray’s test to see how your leadership communication skills stack up against the competition, and learn more about the key principles.